Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space: Spiritualized at Radio City Music Hall
On Friday July 30, it was up to Radio City Music Hall for the performance by Spiritualized, complete with orchestra and choir, of the seminal 1997 album Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating In Space. To say I was excited about this one would be an understatement on par with saying I’d be excited about Crystal Palace playing at Wembley in the FA Cup Final against, oh, perhaps Manchester United. After all, Radio City might just be the finest live music venue of its size in the world, with faultless acoustics, perfect sightlines, a stage vast enough to accommodate any number of high-legged Rockettes, and a wonderful sense of history. As for Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized, they have provided me, over the years, with some of the greatest concert experiences of my life. (Windows on the World. Roseland. Tramps. The Supper Club. The list goes on and on.) And although – or perhaps because – I’ve allowed myself to drift away in recent years, this show felt like something of a reunion. It seemed like I knew at least every tenth person out of the 4 or 5,000 in attendance. Many of us have been following this act since 1992.
For those unfamiliar with the work at hand, Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating In Space is the 1997 album Pierce wrote about his break-up with his former Spiritualized bandmate and evident love of his life Kate Radley (who left him for Richard Ashcroft of the Verve), and the descent into serious drug addiction that followed. It’s an emotionally naked and musically epic album, full of painful admissions of eternal desire and narcotic self-abuse, and though I fully agree with New Model Army’s old motto “Only Stupid Bastards Use Heroin,” Pierce proved himself, at least in the short term, as an exception to the usual rule, because Ladies and Gentlemen was acclaimed then, and remains to this day, an astonishing piece of music. Playing it from start to finish, at this venue, in this format, therefore had a sense both of recognizing and making history.
The announcement of a full orchestra turned out to be somewhat exaggerated; there was but a string section and horn section. Still, by the time you counted the 10-piece gospel choir, that made for 31 musicians on stage – justification, perhaps, for the $75 tickets. Mine, obtained for free I’m pleased to report, had me back the stalls, where the sound from the flown PA was muted somewhat by my position a few rows behind the lowest mezzanine. When I moved forward during the encore, the sound opened up enormously. while my friends on the third mezzanine, which has a higher ceiling than anywhere but the front stalls, reported that their ears were actually hurting. Yep, that sounds like Spiritualized alright.
Oddly enough, although full album performances have been all the rage this past couple of years, this was my first recent encounter with the concept. And when I racked my brains, the only other time I could recall seeing something similar was all the way back in 1977, when as a 12-year old, I went to Wembley Arena and saw Pink Floyd perform both Animals AND Wish You Were Here in their entirety. That seemed an especially appropriate bookend, given how Ladies and Gentlemen takes psychedelia and prog-rock to the very border line of preposterousness yet still pulls off some of the most majestic music on offer. Listen to the 20-minute version of “Cop Shoot Cop” from Radio City, if you dare; or rewind to “I Think I’m In Love” from earlier in the set for some of Pierce’s most amusing and poetic lyrics. An encore of “Out of Sight,” from 2001’s Let It Come Down, served to remind that Ladies and Gentlemen may not even be Spiritualized’s finest 71 minutes. The finale cover version of “Oh Happy Day” was almost inevitable given the presence of the gospel choir; listening to it now, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, it sounds even better than I remember.
For most in the audience, including myself, this was the Spiritualized show they had been waiting for, confirmation that such an epic album could be done justice in such a classic space. Post-show conversation (and there was much of it at the Hotel Jane after-party) centered around whether this was the finest of all the band’s live performances in New York, or whether that honor should be reserved for a show a couple of years back at the Harlem Apollo, in a stripped down format. I can only regret that I missed out on that one; I’ll make sure not to let it happen again. Because, while the last Spiritualized album, Songs In A&E, and the general paucity of new material, might suggest that Pierce has run out of creative inspiration in the studio, he proved at Radio City that his live legacy lives on. And on.